by Adam Haslett
Adam Haslett's first book, the collection of stories You Are Not a Stranger Here, was nominated for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His follow-up novel, Union Atlantic, is the story of a bank on the verge of failing owing to a high-risk and highly irregular gamble by of one of its most arrogant and ambitious young lions. In one scene, a Fed official tells bank officials that Union Atlantic will be allowed to fail rather than being bailed out — a bluff, as it turns out. But Haslett wrote that passage, and others like it, well before most Americans had any idea our major financial institutions could be so vulnerable. Haslett sounds as surprised as anyone that his fiction dovetailed so neatly with reality. "It was an uncanny experience," he told Lynn Neary. "The week I finished the manuscript and sent it off was the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed. ... I felt both scooped and validated at the same time — and a little disoriented."
368 pages, $15, Anchor Books
The Three Weissmanns Of Westport
by Cathleen Schine
Cathleen Schine's twist on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility substitutes divorce for primogeniture as the event that abruptly reduces a woman's material circumstances. When Joseph Weissmann tells his wife of 48 years that he wants a divorce because of "irreconcilable differences," 75-year-old Betty finds herself exiled from their sprawling, elegant Central Park West co-op to a borrowed beach shack in Westport, Conn. Her two grown daughters, also at loose ends, rally around for support. Joe's "irreconcilable difference" turns out to be an avaricious younger colleague named Felicity, "although Betty referred to her, pretending she could not remember the correct name, sometimes as Pleurisy, more often as Duplicity." A master of the modern domestic comedy, Schine lobs zingers at divorce lawyers, McMansions, infomercials, insecure authors, adult sibling rivalry, and easily bamboozled old men, among other targets.
304 pages, $14, Picador Books
The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag
by Alan Bradley
Eleven-year-old amateur chemist and detective Flavia de Luce first captured readers' hearts last year in Alan Bradley's debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. This follow-up finds the young English girl embroiled in another mystery. When a famous puppeteer visiting Flavia's village is electrocuted during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, the junior sleuth refuses to believe it was an accident. With the help of Dogger (her father's handyman), Gladys (her bicycle), and a well-stocked chemical laboratory, Flavia rides in circles around the skeptical but indulgent townspeople and local law enforcement — except when she's being tormented by her insufferable big sisters.
400 pages, $15, Bantam Books
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Heidi Durrow
Author Heidi Durrow has often felt like she's had to straddle two worlds. She is the daughter of a black GI and a white Danish mother. Her own personal search for identity inspired her debut novel, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, which has received breathless critical acclaim and was awarded the Bellwether Prize for fiction that addresses issues of social justice. The story revolves around a biracial girl who moves across the country to live with her grandmother after surviving a family tragedy. As it unfolds, the reader discovers just how unfathomable this tragedy was: Her mother, brother and baby sister all died after leaping off a Chicago apartment building — a jaw-dropping turn of events that was actually based on a real story.
278 pages, $13.95, Algonquin Books
The Facebook Effect
by David Kirkpatrick
David Kirkpatrick spent a considerable amount of time with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg while writing The Facebook Effect. Zuckerberg, Kirkpatrick tells NPR's Deborah Amos, is adamant in his belief that the world is becoming more open. "He sees the world as moving very rapidly toward transparency and very rapid sharing of data between individuals in all sorts of ways, on and off Facebook," Kirkpatrick says. "And from the day he first created his system, he had this ethos of sharing that he strongly believed in." For Zuckerberg, that ethos means sharing everything. He disagrees with the notion that people have different identities. To him, the idea that someone is different at work from at home, or at a rock concert, is dishonest. Says Kirkpatrick, "He believes that he will live a better life personally, and all of us will be more honest, and ultimately it will be better for the world if we dispense with that belief."
372 pages, $16, Simon & Schuster
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag .
Who would think it would be so hard to find good books that are funny without being stupid? Not just wry or ironic, but laugh-out-loud funny, the sort of humor that takes you by surprise. While a great book can transport you without carfare to another world, a good laugh can be more revitalizing than many a vacation. All of these books — two novels, two collections of personal essays and a memoir — feature prose as sparkling and refreshing as sand and water. Read them on a beach, and people two towels over will wonder why you're chortling.
Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir
By Wendy Burden, hardcover, 180 pages, Gotham, list price: $26.00
The Vanderbilt dynasty may not strike you as the stuff of great comedy, but Wendy Burden, a four-times-great-granddaughter of old Cornelius, captures the extravagant decline of her wealthy family with the bite of a standup comic, reminding you that your life and material are what you make of them. After her father's suicide when she was six, Burden and her brothers, were repeatedly shipped off by their self-absorbed, tan-and-man-obsessed mother to join their eccentric, alcohol-soaked paternal grandparents in their lavish New York, Maine and Florida homes.
Despite weekends and holidays spent catered to by a battalion of servants in "Burdenland," the author was made to feel decidedly second class as the only girl, and clearly would have traded it all for a loving maternal hug. She was obsessed with ghoulish Wednesday Addams, and regaled her grandparents' dinner guests with her plans to become a mortician, "with an emphasis on restorative art." Discussing her great-grandmother, who lost her husband early to leukemia, Burden writes with typical wry humor: "With the help of a butler, a footman, a French chauffeur named Lucien, a cook, several maids, and a governess, Gran had raised her two sons on her own." (Read from the chapter titled "Thirty-one Moons," in which Burden, then 7, and her brother Will, 8, board a flight — by themselves — to visit "Gaga and Grandaddy" in New York.)
The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books And the People Who Read Them
By Elif Batuman, paperback, 293 pages, FSG, list price: $15.00
If you want smart, weighty and hilarious, this is your book. It's not often that literary criticism makes you guffaw (with other than derision). But in seven delightfully quirky essays that combine travelogue and memoir with criticism, Elif Batuman, a first generation Turkish-American educated at Harvard and Stanford, takes you on an unconventional odyssey through the world of Russian literature, seeking "direct relevance to lived experience, especially to love." Batuman both plays the game of literary exegesis and skewers it, finding beauty, substance and absurdity at every turn.
Her descriptions of a conference of 25 international Tolstoy scholars at Yasnaya Polyana and a field trip to Chekhov's estate with an incontinent elderly professor called Vanya achieve the sublime silliness of Tom Stoppard's Travesties. (Read Batuman's account of her introduction to the Russian language, and the awkward parallels between her own life and those in the Russian-language primer "The Story of Vera.")
How Did You Get This Number
By Sloane Crosley, hardcover, 271 pages, Riverhead, list price: $24.95
Few literary forms are as fun to read — or as hard to pull off — as the humorous personal essay, a literary fling that doesn't require a reader's long-term commitment or deep emotional investment. It's all about the voice, the wit, the gentle self-deprecation, the utter lack of sanctimony. Sloane Crosley's got the genre down, as she proves once again in her vivacious follow-up to I Was Told There'd Be Cake.
The nine essays in How Did You Get This Number find her struggling to orient herself both abroad (Lisbon, Paris, Alaska) and at home in Manhattan. SATs are "a canary into the mines of your future. A dead canary, and you were looking at a nail-polish-merchandising degree from Pump My Stomach State." A refrigerator shared with an incompatible roommate in her first apartment resembles "a condiment ark. We had two of just about everything." Living in New York, she explains, "The question is never 'Should I be annoyed?' but 'How annoyed should I be?'" (Read from Crosley's essay "Show Me on the Doll," and find the answer to the question, Would you like to see a 3:00 a.m. performance of amateur Portuguese circus clowns?)
The Three Weissmanns of Westport
By Cathleen Schine, hardcover, 293 pages, FSG, list price: $25.00
Cathleen Schine's twist on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility substitutes divorce for primogeniture as the event that abruptly reduces a woman's material circumstances. When Joseph Weissmann tells his wife of 48 years that he wants a divorce because of "irreconcilable differences," 75-year-old Betty finds herself exiled from their sprawling, elegant Central Park West co-op to a borrowed beach shack in Westport, Conn. Her two grown daughters, also at loose ends, rally around for support. Joe's "irreconcilable difference" turns out to be an avaricious younger colleague named Felicity, "although Betty referred to her, pretending she could not remember the correct name, sometimes as Pleurisy, more often as Duplicity."
A master of the modern domestic comedy, Schine lobs zingers at divorce lawyers, McMansions, infomercials, insecure authors, adult sibling rivalry, and easily bamboozled old men, among other targets. She's alternately uproarious and moving. (Read as Joe Weissmann sorts out the terms of his divorce from his wife Betty — with his young lover Felicity. "Poor Betty. I don't envy her. At her age," says Felicity, trying to discourage Joe from forking over in the settlement the "burden" of a $3 million apartment.)
The Frozen Rabbi
By Steve Stern, hardcover, 370 pages, Algonquin, list price: $24.95
Underappreciated novelist Steve Stern cleverly weaves together a zany search for spiritual meaning in a depraved society with an unusual romp through the miserable history of Jews in the 20th century in this wonderfully entertaining, inventive new novel that evokes Amy Bloom, Michael Chabon and Isaac Bashevis Singer. His "ice sage" is a 19th-century mystic rabbi encased in a block of ice during an out-of-body meditation. Shepherded from Poland to Memphis by succeeding generations of a beleaguered but indomitable family, he's finally discovered by sad-sack adolescent Bernie Karp in 1999 while rummaging through his family's basement freezer in search of a slab of meat with which to duplicate an outrageous feat from Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint.
The defrosted rabbi is initiated into overstuffed but undernourished modern culture by binging on television. He comments: "Shopping bazaars it's got, and Dodge Barracudas and Gootchie bags made I think from the skin of Leviathan, churches from Yoyzel it's got big as Herod's Temple, but it ain't got a soul." (Read as Stern's sad-sack protagonist Bernie Karp shoves aside "rump roasts, Butterballs, and pork tenderloins" in search of liver — and instead finds "an old man in the meat freezer.")